What is a recognised biosecurity group?
A Recognised Biosecurity Group (RBG) is a mechanism under the Biosecurity and Agricultural Management Act 2007 (BAM Act) to enable landholders and managers to develop a coordinated approach to control and manage declared pests in their area. A RBG supports and compliments activities that individual landholders and managers are required to do to meet their legal obligations to control declared pests on their land.
A RBG provides an opportunity and basis for shared responsibility and funding in controlling declared pests. It enables communities and industry to partner with others, including state government agencies. RBGs are the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) preferred partnership arrangement for the control of widespread and established declared pests. It provides a framework to foster efficiency through arrangements to make the best use of skills, funds, capacities, incentives and regulations.
Ultimately, a well governed and functioning RBG will take the following steps to self-reliance:
- it will assume responsibility
- it will be well informed
- it will know where it is going (strategic vision)
- it will make its own decisions.
How is an RBG formed?
A biosecurity group that that is formed in an area for the purpose of declared pest control may be recognised under s169 of the BAM Act by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. The Act does not formally detail a process for recognition, however for a prospective RBG to be recognised it must:
- undertake activities consistent with the Act particularly section 138 (a)
- operate at a scale to effectively control declared pests across landscapes
- has the capacity to manage any public funds it receives
- has legitimacy within its community to use funds for the control of declared pests.
A prospective RBG submits an expression of interest to the minister addressing the above points including the group’s consent to be formally recognised. DPIRD’s Director General (or delegate) will advise the minister about prospective RBGs.
A RBG is required to have appropriate governance structures in place and the department encourages groups to be an incorporated association and conduct its affairs according to a constitution. The department has developed an information toolkit to assist on how to set up good governance structures and practices. For more information on the formation and recognition processes please contact your local department biosecurity officer.
How are RBG boundaries set?
For efficient and effective control of widespread and established declared pests (plants and animals), the department prefers that an RBG covers a large area (preferably multiple shires) and be agreeable to managing multiple priority pests. In saying this however group priorities are best determined through engagement and consultation with landholders and relevant stakeholders.
The key reason for recommending larger areas and diverse declared species control interests is to avoid a large number of smaller, single purpose groups forming which could cause long-term partnership arrangements to become less effective. A RBG can be composed of several smaller groups. While this is the department's preference, the group can still determine its extent, priorities and composition.
Smaller-scale RBG for more intensive agricultural areas may be considered. It is best to ensure the scale of a group represents ‘communities of interest’. There needs to be a sense of community cooperation in the intended response to declared pests. Thus boundaries of a RBG are determined through discussions between the biosecurity group seeking recognition from the minister under section 169 of the BAM Act and the department.
Following the receipt of an expression of interest for recognition from the group, the minister will, on the advice of DPIRD, describe the boundary of the RBG (usually based on shire boundaries) in the instrument (a signed document) recognising the group. If there is good reason to do so, the minister may alter the boundaries of the RBG. Boundary alteration would only occur after consultation and discussion with the group seeking recognition and would take into account factors such as operational efficiency and scale required for effective management.
Can a pest be declared for specific areas within a RBG?
It could occur but would generally not be supported. Declaration of a species is considered for all requirements at a state level.
What powers will RBGs have?
Landholders are responsible for controlling declared pests on their land. RBGs add value to the role of landholders, but do not replace the role or responsibility of landholders. RBGs have no direct statutory powers, but through partnership arrangements with the department, they can assist with implementing provisions of the BAM Act.
In implementing their programs RBGs will be required to comply with all relevant legislation e.g. financial and occupational, health and safety.
RBGs are responsible for?
RBGs can have as many responsibilities as they decide, and these must be detailed in their constitutions or governance structures and arrangements.
Funding under the BAM Act, through the Declared Pest Account (DPA - see below), will be provided for declared pest control in the defined area as outlined in the group’s recognition document and their declared pest action plan (pest plan).
BAM Act funded responsibilities may include:
- surveillance and reporting on new and emerging declared pests, and assisting with compliance if necessary
- carrying out operations or engaging contractors to manage declared pests
- promoting best practice pest management to landholders in their area, and developing and working with networks that encourage community involvement in biosecurity
- preparing annual work programs, including operational and budget planning
- conducting preliminary consultation prior to the imposition of rates to fund declared pest control, and
- the management of association affairs including paid support such as executive officers.
How is a RBG funded?
To access funding under the BAM Act, RBGs need to provide the department with a declared pest action plan (pest plan). The plan informs the determination of the declared pest rate (DPR) which DPIRD requests the Minister to impose.
DPRs are matched dollar-for-dollar by the state government. This funding can only be used for declared pest control under an approved pest plan.
It is quite likely that RBGs will receive funds from multiple sources. The minister and DPIRD however need to know what works are intended to be funded from funds collected through rates. Therefore the term declared pest action plan is used to describe the plan that only details those works supported by rates and matching funds. It is important that the plan is developed based on landholders needs and that landholders have been consulted to identify their needs.
Section 130 of the BAM Act gives the Minister the responsibility and authority to impose a DPR. Under s170, the Minister can authorise the department to disburse funds to a group from the DPA. The rate is collected by the Office of State Revenue, deposited into the DPA and matched by the state government.
Funds provided under s170 must be used in accordance with s138 (a) i.e. "to carry out measures to control declared pests on and in relation to areas for which the rates were collected." Rates are matched dollar for dollar by the State Government based on what is expected to be received in rates. All other RBG activities must be funded separately.
To have a rate raised and to access these funds annually, an RBG is required to reach an agreement with DPIRD on:
- a strategic plan outlining priorities for controlling declared pests in areas where rates are collected;
- an annual budget and Declared Pest Action Plan detailing control measures to be undertaken in areas where rates are collected;
- disbursement of funds from the DPA in accordance with agreed milestones and availability of funds, as well as the RBGs agreement under s170 of the Act; and
- reporting on performance and financial (audited) expenditure as detailed in correspondence annually from the Director General.
RBGs are free to seek and obtain funds or other resources from any source. RBGs can opt to rely on rates only, sponsorship and grants only or a combination of rates and sponsorship and grants to fund their operations.
What is the basis for rating?
The DPR can be applied on the basis of the unimproved land value (ad valorem) or via a flat rate. The rate is determined based on each RBG’s approved pest plan.
Before the Minister can determine the rate, the Minister must consult with the affected landholders on the proposed rate in accordance with the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Declared Pest Account) Regulations 2016, before gazetting the rate. This is an annual process. RBGs are encouraged to have broad community support for the determination of a rate, it’s important that landholders recognise the value in paying a DPR.
The department provides support with modelling of rates and advice on consultation processes to inform and engage landholders.
Rate assessments are issued by the Office of State Revenue in September each year.
The declared pest account (DPA)
The DPA is an account administered by DAFWA into which the rates and matching funds are deposited and then transferred to RBGs. Each RBG is allocated an account and funds in the DPA remain allocated to the RBG for which they were collected. Funds earn interest which is calculated quarterly. Interest earnings are paid the month following the end of each quarter (i.e. October, January, April and July). The groups receive statements quarterly and an annual statement in August for the previous financial year.
Can local government funds be used instead of a rate?
A local government may contribute funds to an RBG; but these funds will not be matched by the state government. Only a DPR is eligible for matching funding under the BAM Act.
The intent is for government to provide public funding to match private funding. Local government funding may be considered as public funding and so would not be eligible for matching.
The BAM Act would need to be a changed for other arrangements to be eligible.
Governance and administration
What are RBG governance requirements?
RBGs will be required to have appropriate arrangements in place, the governance structures and policies as expected of any Incorporated Association receiving public funding. These include:
- recognised status as a non-profit organisation
- obtaining or be in the process of procuring public liability insurance (minimum level $10 million cover)
- being registered for GST, or have approval from Australian Taxation Office for GST exemption
- having an Australian Business Number (ABN)
- compliance with any administrative and corporate governance standards set by the DPIRD Director General
- meet with DPIRD annually to discuss the preparation of budgets and delivery of outputs, and
- report to DPIRD on the use of the funds and provide an annual audited financial statement.
Are RBGs responsible for all declared pests?
Landholders are responsible for controlling all declared pests that may occur on their property.
RBGs will need to prioritise their activities and they can undertake work to control pests declared under the BAM Act that are best addressed at a landscape scale. Expenditure must be in accordance with the priorities determined in consultation with landholders and the department.
Declared pests impacting on the viability of agriculture at an industry scale are dealt with through Industry Funding Schemes under the BAM Act.
What planning is required?
It is recommended that a RBG prepare a five-year strategic plan early in its existence. This shows landholders within the area and potential partner organisations the RBG’s purpose and what it intends to do. A strategic plan also makes preparation of annual declared pest action plan relatively easy. The department can assist in the development of strategic and operational plans where required.
The pest plan informs the determination of rates and is approved by the department; it informs what funding will be provided from the DPA. Groups may have an operational plan that provides details on declared and non-declared pests that are considered priority for control in their area, and financial information on funding sources and expenditure. While they are separate documents, information from the pest plan can be used as the basis for the operational plan or vice versa.
What administration and reporting is required?
A normal level of administration and reporting is required as for any organisation that receives public funds. With good planning, this should not be onerous. When the DAFWA transfers funds from the DPA to the group, the department issues a written direction or notice as to what the funds can be used for and what reporting is required.
Will DPIRD provide administrative support?
DPIRD is able to assist with initial development of administrative and reporting structures. RBGs must plan for their ongoing administrative functions. Funds from the DPA can be used for administrative support. Again, this will need to be included in the group’s planning processes.
Options for administrative and operational functions should be planned, costed and included in the annual budget.
Who does a RBG report to?
It is important for a RBG to keep landholders interested and engaged, as well for demonstrating value for rates. So RBGs will need to establish regular communications with their stakeholders to highlight activities and achievements.
RBGs that receive public funding are required to report to the DPIRD Director General on performance and financial expenditure. These reports are required and are published on DPIRD’s public website.
What is the role of local government in RBGs?
Local government is not obliged to play any role in a RBG. The department encourages involvement by Local Government Authorities (LGAs), according to local community interest and their capacity to support RBGs. And as land managers, LGAs have responsibilities under the BAM Act to control declared pests on their land. So being involved in a coordinated approach to control declared pests has many benefits for everyone.
It is envisaged that most RBGs will be at a scale of multiple LGAs. For example, in the eastern Wheatbelt, the Eastern Wheatbelt Biosecurity Group covers eleven shires.
What is DAFWA’s role?
A RBG can be formed through consultation with DAFWA, or independent of DPIRD if no public funding is required. However, if any group seeks recognition from the Minister, the department’s advice will be essential.
DPIRD will be involved if there is a DPR determined in the RBG’s area. The department must approve the pest plan and budget. Also, DPIRD manages the DPA through which groups can access rate and matched funds. RBGs need to report to the department on performance and expenditure of public funds.
Besides the departments statutory role (i.e. in administration and accounting for public funding expenditure), the roles for DPIRD will assist a RBG to become established and recognised. After a RBG is established, the partnership arrangements between the RBG and DAFWA should be agreed to under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
It is anticipated that RBGs may establish similar partnership arrangements with other organisations.
The department will undertake roles within partnership arrangements that are appropriate to a government agency. DPIRD's roles will not replace the responsibilities of landholders to control declared pests on their land, but instead will add to their capacity to do so through RBGs.
Priorities for the department are in preventing new incursions of priority pest animals and weeds and in ensuring eradication where new incursions do occur. This is the most significant role for government and is the most cost-effective use of public resources.
The non-statutory roles that DPIRD can contribute to RBGs through partnership arrangements include:
- providing initial information about declared pests (occurrence, distribution, impacts, ecology etc.)
- advice on administration, coordination and good governance
- assistance with strategic and operational planning, and with budgeting
- advice on ‘best practice’ control, including updates of new information
- advice on statutory obligations of RBGs, including compliance with animal welfare, occupational health and safety or other associated standards
- training to build community or industry capacity to control declared pests
- assistance to address gaps in current knowledge about control of declared pests, and
- assessment of impacts and of the return to investment in control of declared pests.
The department may also perform compliance services under the BAM Act within its resources. For established declared pests, regulation is considered a ‘last-resort’ and would only be applied when landholders fail to control declared pests at a level that meets community expectations and where DPIRD considers it to be feasible and a reasonable action to take.
Regulation and compliance enforcement alone are not effective control mechanisms for wide-spread and established pests unless undertaken with a range of other management mechanisms delivered through a community coordinated approach.
Will Declared Species Groups continue to be supported?
Declared Species Groups (DSGs) were originally established as an interim measure to deal with single declared pest species until RBGs could be established. Funding through DPIRD for DSGs ceased in June 2016 and DSGs were advised of this. DSGs can continue to exist in any form. They are not formed under statute and have no obligations to state government unless if they receive public funds.
While DPIRD is keen to support effective groups, as some DSGs are, it needs to ensure that a coordinated community approach to control declared pests is arranged on a more sustainable basis. RBGs are the mechanism to achieve this. If a DSG decides to seek recognition by the Minister, DPIRD will assist in this transition.
DPIRD is currently working with some existing DSGs to work towards becoming recognised as biosecurity groups.
How does a RBG differ to an Industry Funding Scheme?
An Industry Funding Scheme (IFS) is also a mechanism under the BAM Act for the control of declared pests. An IFS enables producers to raise their own funds for managing pests and diseases directly threatening the profitability and the competitiveness of enterprises in their industry.
An IFS is applied where industry is best able to control the declared pest and where in doing so, it substantially provides private benefit. It is funded completely by the industry with no funds from government. DPIRD may provide services to industry for delivery of control programs on a fee-for-service basis.
There are currently three IFSs in Western Australia:
- grains, seeds and hay
- sheep and goats
The Grains, Seeds and Hay IFS is currently focused on the control of skeleton weed and three-horned bedstraw. Both species are eradication targets for most of Western Australia.
An RBG differs in that it is intended to deliver both public and private benefit or good. On this basis, it can receive both public and private funding. In addition RBGs are generally focused on control of widespread and established species.